Sunday, January 04, 2009

Jan trial report -- this was better :-)

I went with a group to an APDT/CDSP trial weekend and wanted to brag on the results!

Two CIA puppy clients entered the just-approved Puppy class. Montana is an 8 month old Lab and has already beaten experienced adult competitors in her first Dock Diving competition, but this was her first obedience outing. Huxley is a Mastiff, just barely over the 6 month age requirement. Both qualified three runs of four and earned their first titles. Yay! All their qualifying scores were quite respectable, 189 and up. I was proud. :D

My CIA comrade Melissa, with a few reminders to try breathing, took her Lab/Golden mix Link (registered name "Excuuuse Me, Princess!") into Novice and qualified 3 runs of 4 to earn her first title! Yay! (Link works a LOT better when Melissa has oxygen!) But on Sunday, Melissa got wild and decided to enter Rally, too. Their first run, Link did very well, but they had a handler error which cost them an NQ. Melissa was REALLY stressing about her second run; I was stewarding the Open ring and couldn't watch, but Melissa told me it was an impossible course and they'd never make it. It must have been really impossible, because every dog in the A class NQ'd -- except Link, who got a blue ribbon and his first Rally leg. Not SO impossible, after all!

I was in the other ring during both of my Schutzhund friend Connie's runs, which really frustrated me. The first time, I'm sure it frustrated Connie as well -- we helped each other's dogs NQ! Our dogs were beside one another in adjoining rings. I had just walked away from Laev when Connie yelled, "Vor aus!" for Batman, and Laev launched to the far end of the 80' ring and started searching for her target. I called loudly for Laev to come, and that made Batman hesitate instead of finishing his sendout! We don't do much side-by-side work with conflicting concepts in club training. I missed Connie's second run, too, but I heard it was pretty decent; Batman didn't make any major errors, but just had an accumulation of points off that kept him from qualifying. But he did his retrieves, which have been very tough for him, and he recovered well after a scary dog incident, so I give him credit.

My husband Jon needed one more leg to get his one title I told him he had to have for the Rottweiler -- any venue, any title, I said, just something to prove to the insurance people that she was functional in public and trained, as I submit for the Dobermans. He was really stressing about it but wasn't willing to pay the professional handler fee I'd charge him. ;-) APDT allows handicapped dogs to compete and will even do some modifications (lower jump heights, etc.), so we submitted the proper form for Inky's utter lack of rear control. (She's gotten even worse, sometimes knuckling over as she walks and she can't get up from certain positions.) Jon worked really hard on breathing and relaxing during the course -- he tends to freeze up and freak the dog out -- and they walked out not only with their third and final leg, but a blue ribbon! which was a great finish. Jon was thrilled and is now done with trialing. :-)

Another CIA client came for just one run with her Standard Poodle Marley. She got a blue ribbon and High Scoring Dog & Handler in First Trial for Both, a special club award for the day. Yay!

My sister and CIA comrade Alena cleaned up. Seriously. She works a very low-threshold, very high-anxiety dog, who can be quite reactive. They got two new titles and ribbon placements in each of the 8 classes she entered! She had three or four run-offs and won every one of them, I think -- including when she finished her CD-H and moved up to the Novice Championship class, full of more experienced competitors, and took second place! Valenzia became mildly famous as the whining Doberman with gorgeous heeling.

Shakespeare started embarrassingly slow -- he broke stays in two classes on his first day, anticipating! -- but came back to his usual form on Sunday. My goal for him was 190+ double-Qs, which he needs for his championship, and he ended definitively with a double-Q of 210 and 209 in his Level 2 and Level 3 classes. (APDT has 200 points, with an optional 10-point bonus exercise selected by the judge.) Needs more double-Qs, but we're getting there.

Laev got another Rally leg (only after a spectacular fail involving the distraction food bowls -- she demonstrated that she can remove the safety cover quite handily!) in one ring, finished her Open title in the other and moved up to Utility, which I'd only just started prepping for after our club trial when I realized belatedly that she would probably finish Open the first day of this weekend. With perhaps 4-5 days' worth of scent discrimination work, zero directed retrieve work, and only one try at directed jumping previously, we entered Utility A. /laugh/ Laev had all the foundation skills, right? :-) Yeah, but she didn't have a handler fluent in the class! The judge called us in, set us up, and (understandably) didn't remind me that it was the Signals exercise first. "Forward," she said, and I called, "Heel!" I went forward three steps, slapped my hand over my mouth and gasped, "Oh, no! This is signals, isn't it?!"

The judge laughed and we restarted, but I was rattled and Laev looked a little worried during signals, so I just verbally cued the drop. That was an NQ, but it meant the rest of the run could be training, which was fine. And we did MUCH better than I'd expected -- a half-point on her scent retrieve, which I'd just crammed the week before, and compliments from someone watching on her nice marks. I was really happy with it.

No one else saw that run, however. All my friends got to see our second Utility run, which -- well, when I came out, Alena asked, "Is this where we start heckling?" :-) It was the very end of a long weekend, I guess; Laev spaced stuff that I know she knows better. Still, if I try to cram for a class like Utility, I can't really complain when the dog isn't ready!

All in all, it was a pretty good weekend. I was really happy with and for my friends!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Utility Articles

I started teaching scent articles just before Christmas. In the beginning, she was so quick to simply do *something* with a dumbbell that she wasn't pausing to think about what was getting clicked. Previous learning was over-riding everything; she knew she had to grab that object for me!

I started clicking for just nose touches to the correct article, interrupting the retrieve, and Laev grasped the scent discrimination idea within a couple of days -- which was longer than I would have guessed it would take, but still pretty fast for the utility scent exercise.

But that wasn't the end of the job, oh no. I've discovered that Laev gets so wired at the thought of scenting that she barrels into the pile, air-scents the target, and grabs the first object in that direction. She is too excited to focus on the exact origin of the scent and wants to just be lazy and go with the immediate area.

Sound familiar?! That is exactly what we've been fighting in tracking!

So I'm hoping that this will improve her tracking concentration as well. I can't really affect her in tracking much -- physically slowing her makes her hectic, so I'm left with trying to induce slow concentration instead of the self-reinforcing air scenting -- but I can establish consequences in this kind of scent work. Laev seemed to get it more quickly when I snatched up the correct dumbbell after she grabbed the wrong one, preventing her from switching to the right one and requiring a reset before she could have another chance at earning her treat.

We'll see how progress goes. It's telling that she got the concept within a couple of days but now is stymied by her old nemesis of self-reinforcing speed.

I'm Glad I'm a Clicker Trainer

Saturday I went to Schutzhund training with Laev. This was my first time back since the debacle of the trial, and I still didn't have a good plan for what I was going to do about the field. Training departed from the usual agenda (tracking and protection on Saturdays) due to the training director being ill and a couple of us wanting to practice other things, so I found myself working Laev in obedience.

I was feeling pressure. A lot of pressure. (Mostly from myself.) I was coaching another member who is preparing for a CDSP trial this weekend (I'll be there with two dogs, too), and I offered some observations to another member who is working a young adolescent, but I prefaced some of my comments with, "I know my obedience training opinions are worth only a couple of Peruvian rupees this month...." Most of the pressure was internal, everybody was very nice to me about the trial, but there was some quiet talk to one side about training discipline. Lots of pressure.

And Laev was not cooperating. She was generally unfocused, preferring to sniff the floor (her worst floor anywhere, a big barn with lots of cat and mouse smells, dung, and general stuff) and just not "on." I mentioned that she was probably coming into season (she's been due for a while but hasn't come in yet), but that didn't explain her absolutely heinous retrieve. I was almost on the ground begging for a retrieve from her, and I was getting one about 30% of the time (first cue). It was slow when I did get it. Laev could do other stuff we were cramming for the trial -- signals, moving stand, broad jump -- but her retrieves were uuuuuuugly.

I getting really testy about the retrieve. Laev KNOWS the retrieve. She knows it. Really. I brushed it off with the explanation that I'd introduced scent retrieves this week and obviously that had temporarily confused all her retrieves, but I was still honestly surprised it was that bad, even considering reduced criteria. I mean, Laev KNOWS the retrieve.

When she did retrieve, she returned slowly, with a less-solid grip than normal. Dumbbell sat crooked in her mouth sometimes like a stogie. "What, is your mouth broken?" I asked. I mixed up retrieves with lots of other work, but it didn't get better.

Time for bitework, because I needed to get a video clip to accompany a KPCT training article for January. Laev locked and rocked on all her bites, dismissing my tiny little worry that there really was a problem with her mouth. She always has great grips.

Afterward, I wanted to fix those lousy retrieves before the obedience trial this weekend. So I brought her back out and tried them again. Laev would look at the dumbbell and just say, all but aloud, "Nope." I wanted to smack her in the head with the dumbbell. I didn't, but I did get a little sharp with her -- sharp for us, anyway.

"It's just not rewarding enough," someone volunteered from the side.

We are a very joking group and normally that would mean nothing, but this time I didn't take it well. "I'm going to reteach the retrieve from scratch," I announced tersely. "Come on, Laev."

Laev said, Nope. Not doing it. Well, I'll do it, but I won't like it. I don't care if you have hot dogs now, I don't wanna put that thing in my mouth.

Something took my body and walked it to a stack of dumbbells, where I exchanged our 1.5# dumbbell for a little AKC-size dumbbell. Laev resisted, but then started picking that one up. Slowly, but she was doing it. Why would she prefer a strange lightweight dumbbell to her own?

I asked an experienced club member to come and look at her teeth with me. Turns out we didn't really have to look hard; Laev had broken off a tip.

Yep, my dog is nutty enough to do bitework with a broken tooth, but she wasn't willing to take the hit just for a treat. I suspect she broke it yesterday trying to root a critter out from under our big old barn; she probably did it biting at the foundation. I felt like a real jerk for getting frustrated and short with her, but I also felt very glad that I hadn't been using an ear pinch or other coercion to try and fix the problem of her clearly just blowing me off about something she knows really well.


It was two days before I could get Laev to our vet. (If she could do bitework enthusiastically, she wasn't in real distress; I tried a temporary OTC remedy but found it was better just to leave her alone.) This vet works field dogs and I explained that I'd found the broken tooth when her retrieve went sour. He checked her mouth. "Do you have a forced retrieve?"

"No, it's trained, but it's not forced."

That seemed to settle him. "This isn't causing her real pain. She's getting away with being lazy. Tell her to pick it up."

I respect most experts in their own field, but my dog is my own field. Laev would pick up lighter objects more readily than heavy ones. I took her to train after the vet visit and Laev would do signals, gleeful little hops into a moving stand, jumps, heeling, everything -- but when I sent her for a retrieve, she stood over the dumbbell for a moment, and then picked it up and dropped it three times before she finally held it and returned to me. (All one cue.) It just didn't make sense that Laev would happily do everything else but "flip me the paw" over just the retrieve if this were any kind of dominance, laziness, other issue.

So I pretended I knew her mouth was sore and didn't do any bitework or retrieves. And then I started scent discrimination with utility articles on Wednesday, asking only for a nose touch indication, but Laev started adding the pick up on her own after a while. The articles are very light; they probably were easy. We played with that for a while, and then last night I asked for a full-length scent discrimination retrieve. Laev is still working on the scenting part (more on that later) but her retrieve is perfectly intact.

Sometimes it's good to listen to one's gut -- a little sooner than I did, in the instance of last Saturday -- and not jump to coercion when a behavior vanishes. I wish I hadn't gotten as frustrated as I did, but at least I know I wasn't hurting my dog further in demanding she do what I knew she knew.